Taking a Jumbo leap in productivity

PHOTO: Taking a Jumbo leap in productivity

You could say that the Jumbo group - which runs various eateries, including the well-known Jumbo Seafood chain - takes a jumbo-sized approach to delivering good service.

But even after refining service standards among staff, chief executive Ang Kiam Meng still felt that something more had to be done to up the group's game.

"We had come to the point where what can be done has been done. We reckoned there had to be a breakthrough to bring us to another level," he says.

"There needs to be a revamp. We hope to achieve a cultural change in the customer service mindset."

So the group, which also manages Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine, Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, Jpot and Yoshimaru Ramen Bar, decided to do a service overhaul.

It wanted to look into not just better staff behaviour, but also the processes to improve productivity and the dining experience. It tapped on the Customer- Centric Initiative (CCI) grant in mid-2010 for part of its programmes, and has sent staff on Spring's overseas study trips.

While the group's manpower problem is not as severe as many other food and beverage operators', it still pays to look into more productive ways of serving customers, says Mr Ang.

Jumbo devised several processes and systems to help boost productivity, several of which were tried out at Jpot in Tampines One last year.

There, staff do not need to write down the names of customers and call for them when a table is ready. Just as in a bank, customers go straight to a machine and press a button to get a number.

The number will flash on an electronic screen when their table is ready.

"In times of labour shortage, this helps as it cuts one staff member, who can then help to do other things, like take orders. It's more productive," says Mr Ang.

Customers at Jpot also do not have to wait for service staff to serve them. They just pull out an iPad from under the table and start ordering.

In the name of efficiency, Jumbo joined a reservation system called Chope to save time.

Customers book through the system, which will send SMS reminders. This means the staff at the outlet need not call up customers to confirm reservations.

"You save time and can use it to offer more personal service, handle inquiries and be more productive," says Mr Ang.

"Being on the front line, they come into contact with customers on a daily basis that will influence or affect the customers' service experiences," he adds. "It is not just the branding, nor the food that sells Jumbo, but rather, it is the employees that make any organisation a successful one."

This is something that Mr Ang is well aware of. He makes it a point to go on overseas trips with management staff, for instance.

During one such trip, Mr Ang took the opportunity to highlight to his staff the importance of explaining a dish when a waiter walked away right after serving an unfamiliar dish.

"Trips offer an opportunity to bond and to learn from positive and negative experiences.

"If you keep telling them what to do, it becomes very monotonous and mechanical."

Mr Ang highlights the group's fast-track programme, where potential leaders among service staff are identified and groomed for 18 months to become supervisors.

"Why do we do that? Because we realise that if you don't reward outstanding people, their passion will die after a while. They will no longer be outstanding," he says.

"If you identify and groom them, they will shine and they become role models."

The Jumbo group also has what it calls a Lead (Leading innovation, enabling people, achieving results and driving alignment) programme to groom leaders, as many middle managers are promoted from the rank and file and do not know how to motivate people or lead, says Mr Ang.

The group is also still increasing the work that can be done at the central kitchen, which was set up in 2008. Laborious work such as chopping and marinating meat, for instance, is done at the central kitchen.

Says Mr Ang: "Our chefs' time is to churn out good food. Every hour that they stay in the restaurant, they are producing real revenue. The productivity per salary is higher."

All the systems in place help the group to save on manpower and improve its service.

"We need to do something as the market gets more competitive and the business environment gets tougher," he says.

"Our revenue has been growing for the past five years. We can't wait till our revenue falls before we do something. That will be too late."


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.